When we arrived in Yucatán’s capital city, Mérida, we were anxious to put a miserable January 2020 behind us (update: January ended up being the tip of the horrific iceberg that was 2020). We had been horribly sick with food poisoning, our van had been broken into in the middle of the night (while we were sleeping in it), and a number of personal tragedies were unfolding for friends and family over the span of a few short weeks.
The drive through the mountainous state of Chiapas had been beautiful but also exhausting with everything else that was happening. We were keen to get back to the coast and get some R & R in at the beach before we flew to Australia.
But before we could do anything our trusty van needed some attention, not least of all to replace the door locks. The other major issue being the shock absorbers that had been tested to their limits driving over Mexico’s infamous topes (speed humps). As we limped toward Mérida, we were eager to rest in one spot for a few days while the van got some attention and looking forward to discovering what Mérida had to offer.
Is Mérida Worth Visiting?
Mérida is the capital of the Yucatan and the launching point for this diverse and beautiful state. A state known for beaches, Mayan ruins and cenotes.
Mérida is steeped in both Mayan and colonial history and culture. The city of Mérida was founded by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, but its Mayan history as the city of T’hó stretches back centuries before that. Colonial buildings constructed using the carved white limestone of the existing Mayan civilisation gave Mérida its nickname, the white city.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Mérida was amongst the wealthiest cities in the world thanks to its agave plantations. The influence of this golden age can still be seen in the wide boulevards and historic mansions that line the city centre.
Today the city is vibrant and lively with a flourishing national and international tourism scene. It has an incredible culinary culture with bars, restaurants and cafes that represent not only the unique flavours of the Yucatán but also of Europe and the Caribbean.
Here you can find traditional local experiences including local markets, community concerts, arts and crafts. Alongside modern entertainment and conveniences including malls with popular international brands, department stores, and cinemas.
Despite our own drama, Mérida was a charming city to experience and explore. With plenty of things to do and see, Mérida is well worth a stop if you are exploring the Yucatán.
Weather in Mérida
Hot in “winter”, sweltering in the warmer months (which last from February through to November), it is summer year-round here so pack shorts. Also, bring an umbrella for the wet season which runs from late May through to early October.
What to Do in Mérida
There is no shortage of things to do in Mérida. From historical architecture to fabulous brunch spots to late-night dancing, Mérida has something for everyone.
Paseo de Montejo
Referred to as Mexico’s answer to the Champs-Élysées, this wide boulevard is lined with mansions and grand buildings, many of which are over 500 years old. It is a testament to a time when Mérida was one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Take a stroll, bike ride, or, if you are feeling really fancy, a carriage ride down the impressive Paseo de Montejo.
There are plenty of cafés, restaurants, and bars along Paseo de Montejo, and in the surrounding area. Check out café Márago, breakfast spot Huevos Motuleños y Mas, or popular bar, La Negrita. Attractions including the Palacio Canton and Noche Mexicana can be found here too.
Museums in Mérida
Spend a day (or five) exploring some of Mérida’s museums. Mérida has numerous museums and galleries dedicated to a diverse range of topics, from Mayan culture to colonial architecture, modern art, and even a museum documenting the paranormal. Whatever your interest or age you’ll find a suitable museum in Merída. Check out this great article on Mérida’s Museums from Mexico Cassie with a comprehensive list (and reviews) of Mérida’s many museums.
Mérida’s zócalo, or town square, is a great starting point to explore the historical old town of Mérida. Some of Mérida’s most popular attractions can be found a short walk from the zócalo including the city museum, the cathedral of Merida, and the Palacio de Gobierno.
A free walking tour leaves from the square twice daily at 10 am and 5:30 pm offering further insight into the history and culture of the city and region.
Escargot French Bakery is the perfect place to grab a pastry and a coffee for an on the go breakfast before setting out to explore the old town.
Mercado Lucas De Galvéz
This authentic and centrally located market is where the locals come to shop for fresh produce. Fresh fruits, veggies, cheeses, spices, and more, as well as various souvenirs and merchandise, can be found in this busy maze. Be sure to visit the food hall for a cheap and delicious local lunch. And as always, look for the stall with the most locals!
- Address: Calle 65A, Centro
- Hours of Operation: Open daily
Nightlife in Mérida
Nightlife is not necessarily Mérida’s claim to fame but, as with most places in Mexico, they know how to party. Mexican culture meets the Caribbean here and you’ll find everything from mezcal bars to salsa clubs.
This popular bar is always packed with locals and tourists alike. A litre of draught beer is only 50 pesos and snacks are free, as is the live music.
- Address: Calle 62 461, Parque Santa Lucia, Centro
- Hours of Operation: Monday – Sunday 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
An authentic Mexican cantina serving up unique cocktails and a laid back vibe. Popular among locals and tourists, especially on the weekends.
- Address: Calle 62 entre 53 y 55
- Hours of Operation: Daily 5:00 pm – 2:30 am
Every Saturday night around 8:00 pm Noche Mexicana takes place at the southern end of the Paseo Montejo. Singers and musicians from all over Mexico come to perform at this free weekly concert. A community event, Noche Mexicana is family-friendly. Delicious food stalls set up on the fringes.
- Address: Paseo de Montejo at Calle 47
- Hours of Operation: Saturdays 8:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Shopping in Mérida
Mérida is a great place to get some shopping done, whether you are looking for one of a kind crafts and souvenirs, stocking up on grocery staples, or need a new pair of slacks.
If it’s souvenirs and local craft you are looking for, you don’t need to look far beyond the city centre. Spreading out from the Plaza Grande you can find shops specializing in locally produced crafts, including the traditional guayaberas (embroidered dress shirts) and huipiles (blouses) of the region.
Mérida also has more contemporary options with a number of large malls with popular international brands and department stores. With our car in the shop, we had a few hours to kill and decided it was high time we did some clothes shopping. It was also a great way to escape Merida’s stifling heat for a few hours. Two of the more modern malls are the Galerías Mérida and La Isla Merida. Both a twenty to thirty-minute ride outside the city centre, an uber costs about 100 pesos.
What to Eat in Mérida
The Yucatán has a unique and distinctive cuisine incorporating elements of Mayan, Caribbean, and European traditions, and Mérida is one of the best places to sample this food.
Make sure you try the iconic pibil slow-roasted meat cooked in a banana leaf over the grill or in a fire pit. The succulent slow-roasted pork known as conchinita pibil. Crispy fried panuchos served with refried black beans, slow-cooked meat, and trimmings. And of course the Yucatán’s hangover cure, huevos motulenos, a hearty breakfast of fried tortillas, refried beans, and eggs all swimming in red sauce and served with fried plantains.
Where to Eat in Mérida
Merida has a rich culinary tradition and a long list of excellent restaurants to sample this tradition. Mexican and Yucatán flavours are well represented but beyond this Merida is also a cultural melting pot with restaurants representing cuisines from all over the world. First-rate French bakeries, Cuban restaurants, Italian coffee houses can all be found within walking distance of the city centre. Best of all you don’t need to spend a fortune to find the best meals here. Our favourite meals here were in the least assuming restaurants and street stalls.
Huevos Motulenos y Mas
This popular brunch spot has three different locations across Mérida. The homestyle cafe specialises in regional cuisine. As indicated by the name, this is THE place to sample the Yucatan’s renowned breakfast dish Huevos Motulenos. Their other breakfast options really hit the spot as well.
- Address: 58 y 60, Calle 47 492
- Hours of Operation: Daily from 8:00 am – 1:00 pm
Escargot French Bakery
Escargot French Bakery is the perfect place to grab a french pastry and a coffee for an on the go breakfast before setting out to explore the zocalo.
- Address: Plaza Internacional, Calle 58 495
- Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
Mercado Lucas De Galvéz
The food court of this busy mercado is one of the best (and cheapest ) lunches in central Mérida.
- Address: Calle 65A, Centro
- Hours of Operation: Daily
One of our favourite lunches in all of Mexico was this Cuban restaurant in central Mérida. A small room in the front of a Cuban family’s house has been set up with a handful of tables and chairs. Beyond, kids are playing computer in the family living room.
From the back kitchen huge helpings of the daily specials are served. We ordered a cuban sandwich, stuffed with roast pork, ham, melted cheese, pickles and mustard. And, fragrant slow cooked beef, served up with, homemade beans, fried plantain, and rice. All up less than $10 USD.
- Address: Calle 51 502c, Parque Santa Lucia
- Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday 8:30 am – 4:30 pm
Taqueria La Lupita
One of the best local taquerias specialising in regional dishes. La Lupita is open for breakfast and lunch. They even have an explanation of each of their regional dishes printed in English to make things easy!
- Address: Calle 57 (entre 70 y 72)
- Hours of Operation: Daily 5:15 am – 1:00 pm
La Chaya Maya
A tablecloth affair for those who want to taste Yucatán cooking in style. La Chaya Maya is regarded as one of the better places to sample the unique flavours of the Yucatán. This popular restaurant gets consistent reviews and is reasonably price. We thought the food was fine but not outstanding.
- Address: Calle 57 x 62
- Hours of Operation: Daily 7:00 am – 11:00 pm
Cafes in Merida
Coffee culture is alive and well in Mérida, and you don’t have to stray far from the centre to find a number of great cafes. Cold-brew, french press, and espresso, the baristas here take their coffee seriously. Mérida easily ranks the more sophisticated cafe scenes in Mexico, alongside Oaxaca, San Cristobal, and Mexico City.
Márago is the perfect place to grab a takeaway before you stroll up the Paseo de Montejo. Alternatively, stay and catch up on some emails.
- Address: Paseo de Montejo #481 Int 101 entre 39 y 41
- Hours of Operation: 8:00 am – 10:00 pm
Manifesto serves Italian styles espresso coffee made from house-roasted, locally sourced beans. The chic cafe has great service and a warm atmosphere.
- Address: Calle 59 538
- Hours of Operation: 8:00 am – 9:00 pm, closed Sundays
This quiet cafe just outside the historic old town has two things going for it. One, they source some of the best coffee from around Mexico, and two, they have baristas that really know their way around the espresso machine. Head here and skip the overpriced and stuffy ‘Latte Quatro Sette’ across the street.
- Address: Calle 47 Diagonal 478
- Hours of Operation:
- Monday – Friday: 8:00 am – 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
- Saturday – Sunday: 8:00 am – 2:00 pm
Where to Stay in Mérida
Mérida is a national and international tourism destination with hundreds of accommodation options. Bed and breakfasts in centuries-old mansions, sleek modern hotels and friendly backpacker hostels, Mérida has something for every budget and every style of traveler.
Van Life Mérida
There is no obviously fantastic place for inner-city camping in the city of Mérida. Options are limited to parking next to the small parks, in the parking lots of supermarkets like Soriana and Sam Club or in the parking lots of large malls on the outskirts of town.
The city is generally safe for camping. As always it’s a good idea to speak to local security and police to let them know you are staying, get the ok and ask them to keep an eye out for you.
El Tigre de Santiago
El Tigre de Santiago is a small and friendly hostel located downtown in the historic old town of Mérida. Besides being right in the action this beautifully renovated, the hundred-year-old hostel is comfortable, clean, and has a nice low key atmosphere. Prices start from $6 USD for a dormitory and $24 USD for a private room.
City Express Plus Mérida
Comfortable and modern this hotel is an easy stroll from the historic district. With a rooftop pool, fitness centre and included buffet breakfast, The City Express is a great option for travellers wanting a modern hotel experience. Suites start from $60 USD a night.
Hotel El Palacito Secreto Luxury Boutique Hotel & Spa
Taken with the incredible french inspired architecture of Mérida’s old town? Take the opportunity to stay in one of these magnificent buildings. Hotel El Palacito Secreto has 8 generous suites all furnished with authentic antiques that add to the palatial feel of this opulent hotel. Suites start from $100 USD.
Is Mérida Safe
Mérida is one of the safest cities in Mexico with low crime rates and a vigilant police force.
Mérida is safe to walk home at night in the Centro district. Don’t walk alone, outside of lit and patrolled outside of the main touristic centres, and don’t walk very late at night.
Camping and overlanding feels safe in the city centre and in the carparks of the large malls on the outskirts of Mérida.
Van Life in Mérida Mexico
With large mercados, popular chain supermarkets, and retailers as well as shopping malls, you can restock on almost anything you need here.
Also of interest to overlanders might be the multilingual (Spanish, German, and English) mechanic Oliver. Operating out of his garage EuroTaller on the outskirts of Mérida, Oliver is a German mechanic who has been working in Mexico for more than twenty years. Highly recommended on iOverlander, he also did a great job for us, diagnosing and solving a range of issues for a fair price. Oliver operates on Hispanic time so if you are on a strict deadline, you may need to seek someone else.
Where to Next
Wondering what to see near Mérida? If you are looking for a day trip or your next destination, you are spoiled for choice here. Surrounded by Ancient Mayan ruins, deep clear cenotes and old-world colonial towns, there is plenty to explore on the Yucatán peninsula and Mérida is the perfect jump-off point.
Chill Out in El Cuyo
The tiny seaside town of El Cuyo is a great place to escape the crowds and find a piece of paradise all to yourself. Year round winds make it a great place to learn to kite surf, but not so great for sunbathing.
Wander Ruins in Valladolid
The colonial town of Valladolid is renowned for the numerous cenotes and famous ruins of Chichén Itzá that can be found nearby.
This under-appreciated state has much to offer. Discover unspoiled coastline, incredible jungle, ancient history and the beautiful capital city of Campeche.
Find the Flamingos in the Yucatán
See the flamingos of the Yucatan in Celestun and Rio Largatos and the pink lakes of Las Coloradas. The incredible salt lakes of the Yucatán offer stunning scenery and dense populations of flamingos.
What do you think of our article on Mérida? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page.
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